Clawson resident Daryl Neal has spent seven years trying to create the perfect combination of daylily flowers in his backyard garden. Today, his garden boasts more than 5,000 daylily plants with buds blooming into an array of unique flower colors and shapes.
"I just about have it the way I want it now,” said Neal, who ripped out all the daylilies in his 80-by-80-foot garden last year because it wasn’t what he wanted. "I decided to narrow my goals with my garden by focusing on specific things."
Those goals included breeding plants with a high bud count to produce more flowers and to create a special flower coloration called the "banded eye," which means having multiple rings inside the flower’s eye (the darker colored portion in the center of the flower).
"I have not quite achieved the banded eye like I wanted," he said. "They show up one day and then are gone the next."
Breeding the daylilies
To breed his daylilies, Neal takes the pollen from one daylily and places it on another. He will often freeze the pollen in test tubes of flowers that have a large number of buds or his desired flower appearance.
"There are a million combinations of daylilies," Neal said.
Even though most people associate red and orange with daylilies, he said they can actually come in every color but blue and green, although they are working on producing those colors, too. "So when I breed the plants I’m kind of throwing the dice and hoping I get something good out of it," he said.
Neal is retired from his career doing logistics for the United States Army, which allows him to spend several hours each day breeding and tending to his daylilies. During peak season at the end of June, he said he can spend up to six hours on his garden. However, maintenance is a year-long commitment.
"In the fall I harvest the seeds from the garden, start them growing inside in February and then have them in the ground in May," Neal said. "They grow best in cooler, rainier conditions because they really like water and fertilizer."
Neal said his garden peaked earlier than usual this season with a mild winter and hot summer. Neal said on a hot day the flowers will also have their color faded away by mid-afternoon.
A 'big undertaking'
Neal recently took a trip to Columbus, OH for the 2012 American Hemerocallis Society National Convention where daylily breeders enter their flowers into contests and aficionados see what types of flowers others have created.
"I think I’m just about ready to enter mine into competition," he said.
When Neal’s not working with his daylilies, he said he enjoys scuba diving and working on other landscaping projects around his home where he’s lived with his wife, Lori, for 25 years.
"I was surprised when Daryl first told me about wanting to create the daylily garden because it was such a big undertaking to raise the flower bed, but he really enjoys taking care of it now," Lori Neal said. "He’s very particular about what he does to it, too. So I will help him water the plants, but otherwise I just stay back and let him do what he wants."
"It really is something you have to spend a lot of time with," Daryl Neal said. "I’ve worked with daylilies so much I have to wear a long sleeve shirt in the garden because I’m now allergic to them."